According to PBP Executive Reports, 22 million employees are actively disengaged costing companies over $350 billion a year in lost productivity. Now your retail store may not be losing billions, but I'm sure there is money lost each month due to disengaged, unproductive employees from low morale—money you would like to have back.
To boost employee morale, first you have to understand this truth—you cannot motivate people. Now that may surprise you. But the truth is, you cannot motivate an employee. You can, however, provide an environment that stimulates the mind and heart of the employee to motivate themselves. This is the reason we read the term "self-motivated" in all the want ads for employees. The funny part is, everyone is self-motivated. There is no other definition. I'm sure they are trying to say "not lazy" in a very polite way. But morale is driven by the company and motivation is driven by the employees.
With this fact in mind, surely any strategy you deploy in your retail store must come from or in consultation with the employees. To simply sit down and brainstorm a list of ideas or worse yet, read a book full of ideas in a vacuum without the employees' input is purely a waste of your time. While there are good ideas in those books (like Bob Nelson's "1001 Ways to Reward an Employee") the impact of an idea in your store is based on your employees and your culture. So make sure that any idea you try in your store is in consultation with your employees.
Millennials make up the largest percentage of the workforce now. And Gen Z, the group coming next, is expected to have one to two million more people in it. So, boosting morale is taking on a whole new meaning for today's retailer. The ways you motivated the workforce of old may not and often times will not have the same effect on today's employees.
Know Your Employees
This one may sound simple, but store owners are often out of touch with the employees. They know lots of "facts" about their employees like age and family size, but they know very little about their likes and dislikes, hobbies and passions. It's knowing these last things that boosts morale. How can you improve the morale or productivity of your staff if you don't know what motivates them?
Involve Your Employees
As stated earlier, do not brainstorm a list of ideas on your own—involve the employees. Even if it is simply asking them their opinion on your ideas list. You don't have to form an employee morale committee. You could set up something like a culture team. This is a group of employees whose job is to come up with ideas and plan activities and events in the store to develop your corporate culture and boost morale. This group focuses on employee experience and the customer experience in your stores. They're the protectors of the culture and help you ensure that the experience your customers receive is exceeding expectations.
The biggest mistake retailers make is planning a barrage of events for the employees in the name of "boosting morale." Employees become desensitized and see right through your plot to make them happy. Plan something monthly at first. Commit to and execute at a level you can fit in with your current workload. Don't over plan because if you do you will likely under deliver which will cause more damage to morale than good.
Focus on Rest
Retail is a roller coaster job. One hour you are running around like crazy taking care of the customers, unloading the truck, and handing the phones, and the next you are standing in an eerily quiet store waiting for the door to open. This up and down pace is taxing on an employee. So plan activities or times of rest for the employee. Since motivation happens from within, the best chances of motivation happen from a position of rest not from stress. Your store may be different. You may have a constant stream of customers and work to be done every day. In this case, the need for rest is even greater. Resist the temptation to bring in pizza for lunch. Instead, send the employees out with some cash to buy their own. You paid for their lunch still, but they got away from the "grind" for 45 minutes to relax and recharge. There's nothing relaxing about eating in the stockroom.
Nothing kills morale in a retail store more than poor communication. Especially with the new generations working now, they require constant information and communication. Consider this, they live a world full of information at their fingertips. How sad is it if an employee knows more about the biggest headlines in politics than they do about what's happening in their own store? Often times, store owners are hesitant to share data about the store performance. This is a mistake. Employees need to know how the store is performing. You don't have to share exact numbers, you can talk in percentages, but they deserve to know.
Celebrate your employees. Celebrate their life (birthdays or anniversaries) and their work performance. Your store should have a strong culture of celebration. In the old days, this was called recognition, but with today's employee, it's celebration. Celebration is the best form of recognition and it builds a "family" culture that all retailers crave in their store. What gets rewarded gets repeated, this is an old adage we all know. But what gets celebrated gets repeated by others. And that is a more powerful form of stimulation in the employee to boost their morale.